What were your reasons for emigrating?
Hooked by NZ! I came here to study for a semester, and ended up falling in love with the country and a particular Kiwi. I returned to the States in 2001 to finish my bachelor’s degree, and let’s just say by the end of the year I desperately wanted to get back to NZ. Of course the political climate and fear mongering by the Bush administration also encouraged me to leave. “Be scared! Yes you! See that guy over there who looks different from you? He’s a terrorist! Turn him in!” etc.
Occupation: Music Industry
Number Emigrating: 1
Emigrated from: Vermont, USA
Moved to: Wellington
When did you arrive in NZ: 2001
My Story Written: September 2004
Daily Commute Time: 15 minutes
What were your reasons for choosing New Zealand?
I was originally just choosing an English-speaking country in which to study. Saw a picture of my friend standing on a glacier with his afro blowing in the wind, and I said “That’s it!”
What differences have you noticed between your NZ town and your home town?
Wellington and Burlington, Vermont share a laid back (yet ultimately yuppie) style combined with a thriving alternative culture. But, the atmosphere here is very different from North Carolina. Lots of respect for different races, ethnicities, and lifestyles (for the most part), as well as respect for young adults that I don’t find in the US. I have to say I can’t agree with the other people on this site who have found serious racism in NZ. In my experience, the many ethnicities here get along very well on a personal basis, and respect each other’s right to be proud of who they are. That said, a few old school New Zealanders are intimidated by the number of non-white immigrants coming here recently. I have personally never, ever come across Maori being disrespectful or rude to white folks.
What do you like best about New Zealand?
The friendliness! If you walk into a shop, the person serving you will almost without fail ask you how your day has been, and truly be interested! Kiwis are so chatty, and always keen to hear your story. Conservation land covers almost one third of New Zealand. I can take a 40 minute train ride (for NZ$10) and start hiking from the station into a wilderness of rainforest, craggy mountains and alpine herb fields. Or I can take a bus for 15 minutes and sit at the beach! I love backcountry huts! When hiking, you really don’t need to take a tent, as there are fantastic public cabins with bunks, mattresses, and stoves spread throughout NZ’s conservation land. As you can see, I’m not too concerned about house prices and income levels yet. As far as I’m concerned, the quality of life here is amazing and quite affordable. My professional field (music education and sound engineering) is very well paid by Kiwi standards. Rent in Wellington is certainly less expensive than Vermont. And even in downtown Wellington I feel very safe walking around alone at night. Maybe not the case in Auckland or Christchurch. Plus Kiwis are so creative! The music, theater, and dance scenes here are fantastic. Not as many international acts as one would see in North America/Europe, but the quality of NZ arts more than makes up for that.
What don’t you like about New Zealand?
I guess Kiwis sometimes think of Americans as a bit naive and gullible, but who’s to say that’s not true? And everyone still thinks I’m a traveller after being here for nearly four years! Unfortunately, an American accent never goes away. The “tall poppy syndrome” (jealousy of success) seems to be fading away, but at least it has kept everyone humble. Egos are very small here. People appreciate who you are, and don’t try to “one-up” every story you tell! Really, that’s about it. Yes, many houses are damp, but I’m not too concerned about that. I mean, it’s an island in the South Pacific! It’s going to be damp!
What do you miss from your home country?
Family is very far away, but the airfares are affordable if you can travel in August/September/November shoulder season (NZ$999 to LA at best). We just have to convince our extended families to visit NZ!
How easily did you find work in New Zealand?
Well, the market is much better now than when I was looking in 2002. I’ve actually found lots of work through word of mouth, though it’s all been part-time (which is due to the nature of the music industry). I think employers are now realizing that it makes a whole lot of sense to employ qualified and experienced immigrants. The skills shortage is hitting nearly every industry at this point. And I’d have to say that employers are more likely to hire workers from the UK than from the States… I think it’s because most of the employers’ families are from the UK to begin with! Like hiring like? I’m not sure. Maybe Americans are seen as transients here… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked in a job interview, “You’re not going to bugger off back to the States next month, are you?”
How does your working life in New Zealand compare with your previous work experiences?
Slightly more relaxed, but my jobs here have been very different from my work in the States, so I don’t think I can accurately compare. And yes, income tax is quite high (20-40%), even on low paying jobs. But I guess that’s the price for semi-socialized health care and living in the middle of the South Pacific ocean. It took me a while to realize that I’m in the same boat as all the other immigrants (Chinese, Pakistani, Somalian, etc), and being from the US isn’t a big help in the eyes of NZ immigration or many prospective employers.
How does your standard of living in New Zealand compare with your previous country?
Almost the same, really. Definitely less crime (though still some, depending upon where you are). Less of a fast food culture; smaller, more specialized stores; just slightly less convenient than America’s drive-thru society.
How does your quality of life now compare with your previous country?
For me, the laid back vibe and easy access to stunning landscapes has no equal in the world.
Do you have any other personal experiences or observations that would be useful for people considering immigrating to New Zealand?
Don’t worry if different immigration officers tell you completely different stories! It’s tough, but that’s the way it goes. Just go by the most recent advice, and visit immigration in person whenever possible. I’ve had to buy whole new plane tickets and much more because I’ve gotten bad info from Immigration, but ultimately you’re at their mercy, so you have to do what they say. And I’ve gotta sympathize with them, because people are so stressed out and often rude (or in tears) when visiting the Immigration offices. It’s no wonder the Wellington NZIS office has completely new staff every six months. Be as nice as possible to everyone involved with NZIS… then they will actually go out of their way to help you! The NZ Embassy in Washington DC is fantastic! Use them, rather than the consulate in LA. And just go for it! You won’t be disappointed with New Zealand.